Does God Have a Sense of Humor?
Does God Have a Sense of Humor?
This might not be the most serious subject to explore in a bulletin article, but bear with me. From time to time, I’ll get asked, “Do you think God has a sense of humor?”
I’m not sure I can answer that. At least, I don’t know if God has a sense of humor like we do. After all, human wit has to do with irony and timing, and the God who exists in eternity is surprised by nothing. Still, does God crack a smile at a good joke? (Have you heard the one about the shortest character in the Bible? It’s Bildad the Shuhite. Get it?) Is there an unheard heavenly laugh track when we do something silly, like spill grape juice on a white shirt? Does the duck-billed platypus prove that God likes to have a little fun in creation? Since God made mankind according to His image, perhaps it’s not blasphemous to imagine God chuckling, like a parent marveling at a child.
Whatever the case about God Himself, there are occasions in God’s written word where grasping the meaning requires catching the irony and appreciating the underlying humor.
Sarcasm in Scripture
There are several places in the Old and New Testaments, where we are confused at a first reading. Then, we notice the sarcasm, and suddenly it clicks.
An obvious example is found in Job 12:1, when Job, growing exasperated with his friends’ terrible advice, countered, “Truly then you are the people, and with you wisdom will die.” Job didn’t literally mean it; in fact, he meant quite the opposite. We could paraphrase the insult, “You think you’re the smartest people in the whole world!”
Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal who had failed to get their god’s attention, saying “call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Elijah could have provided a deep theological exposition on the nature of idolatrous belief systems. But this was a fight to the death, a dramatic showdown on Mt. Carmel. Elijah’s absurd and cutting remark not only pointed out the truth in an economical way, but also made the false priests angrier and angrier. In fact, I’m told that Elijah’s trash talking went a step further, that the Hebrew word for “occupied” in some contexts means “sitting on the toilet” (Wiseman, Tyndale commentary on 1 & 2 Kings, p. 169). Thomas Jefferson said that ridicule is the only weapon that can be used to get through to stupid people; Elijah’s taunt is a perfect example.
Paul used sarcasm in 2 Corinthians 12:13. He said, “in what respect were you treated inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!” Paul hadn’t done anything wrong. Paul simply had refused to accept payment from the Corinthians, and they got bent out of shape. Paul’s biting humor puts the spotlight on the Corinthians’ stupid behavior, who should have thanked him for his efforts rendered free of charge, rather than getting upset about it.
Jesus used sarcasm in John 10:10. He was facing a crowd preparing to throw stones at Him. He coolly remarked, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” Jesus’ humor distracted them from their violent intentions and forced them to confront Jesus’ true nature.
He used sarcasm again in Mark 7:9, when he called the Pharisees “experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” That’s not something any conscientious person really wants to be called an expert at (cf. Isaiah 5:22)!
And yes, even God the Father uses sarcasm. In Ezekiel 28:3, God Himself addresses the haughty King of Tyre, “You have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods...’ Behold, you are wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that is a match for you!” Is God really saying that the King of Tyre is wiser than Daniel? Not for a second. God is using sarcasm to emphasize how ridiculous is the king’s claim.
Hyperbole in Scripture
Exaggeration is another form of humor, painting a preposterous picture to prove a point. The fancy name for this poetic literary device is “hyperbole.”
Jesus sometimes exaggerated for effect. He said, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5). A log could never fit into a person’s eye, literally speaking. But the silly image points out the equal silliness of nitpicking minor failings of others while tolerating major failings in oneself.
He said to the Pharisees, “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matt. 23:24). No one can eat a camel, but it shows how ridiculous it is for the church to get into a heated argument about what kind of trays will be used to collect the offering, when members of the same church are going hungry or living in sin.
Now, as you read the Bible, keep your eyes open for occasions of humor that add to the meaning!